Honduran and Central America Prosperity Project participant Guillermo Peña Panting is hopeful his country will one day be peaceful. He is a founder and board member for a public policy think tank in his home country, and is working to change Honduras and Central America. We sat down with Guillermo to learn more about his vision.
How did you get to be where you are now?
I had no idea what to do with a Political Science degree, so I got involved with think tanks and idea movements while [studying] in North Carolina. After working at a think tank in Washington, I started looking for something similar in Honduras but realized there wasn’t one. So a group of us decided to start our own.
It took three attempts to get a think tank going. We finally saw success in 2013 when we established Eleutera. The past four years we have had some pretty significant wins in uniting regional markets, opening the labor force, reforming our tax code, working on civil liberties, and protecting the freedoms of our people.
What kind of change do you want to see in your country?
One of our main problems is not knowing what is coming next. We experience big [unexpected] changes like a president leaving office sooner than planned or a president extending their time in office. What our country needs is predictability, a better understanding of the laws and how to change them.
Our main work at Eleutera is taking politics out of areas where it doesn’t belong. That’s why we think uniting Honduran, Guatemalan, and Salvadoran markets is important. It removes the politics, especially in the energy and labor markets. We know our markets are too small and it is hard to move around each country to work without labor permits. By removing the politics and uniting the markets, we can change this. Our main goal for Honduras and the region, is to be a net importer of people, we don’t want to be a net exporter and lose our talent.
What do you want Americans to know about Honduras that they might not know?
In the case of security, the change has been dramatic in the last four or five years. Yes, the past 15 to 20 years was really hard and many families suffered from an incident of violence, even in my own family someone was kidnapped, but there is change. Our weak institutions are becoming stronger and our local problems are resolving themselves.
A lot of foreigners visit Eleutera and they are always very nervous when arriving to San Pedro Sula, but after spending a day or two they tell me, “This is not at all what I expected.” Those are the stories that should be told. When people visit our country, meet our people, and eat our food their opinions change.
What has the Central America Prosperity Project meant to you?
We see the Central America Prosperity Project as a path to fast track the things we are working on. Like uniting the energy and labor markets and improving the customs union. There is not enough social mobility, and it’s frustrating to work all your life and not get out of where you are. So, what we are trying to do is create more wealth in the country because that is the only way you can stop people from leaving.